Perception is everything

Perception is everything

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To the Editor:

Please refer to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) staff report, minutes of April 3 and April 17, 2014, and decision regarding the Edgartown Lofts project. Every one of them reflects escalating rental figures (from $1,200/month on page 4 of the report, to $1,700/month on page 6 of April 17’s minutes) quoted by attorney Sean Murphy for the Triangle apartments — which he recently revised again to “market rate, probably about $2,000.”

The decision (A4, page 6) also notes: “The Commission finds that the proposed development would have a neutral impact upon the supply of needed low and moderate-income housing for Island residents.”

The public and perhaps the Edgartown Planning Board, as well, were initially led to believe that the units would be for lower-than-market-rate rentals. Indeed, the applicant originally offered a mitigation contribution of $35,600 toward “affordable housing” (April 3, minutes, page 5). I question whether this project, in this location, would still be under consideration unless other people had had similar (mis)perceptions. All too often, as you know, especially in a small town, “perception is everything.”

Bait and switch? You decide.

When MVC commissioner Fred Hancock said he felt that the MVC “could not depend on who will be the owner of Edgartown Lofts in five or ten years,” Mr. Hajjar offered to keep the units as year-round rental properties for 10 years. (See pages 6, 9 and 11, April 17.)

Yet Mr. Murphy, in his June 16, 2014, letter in response to a request from the Planning Board for a list of revisions to the original plan, wrote: “The units may not be sold or transferred individually to a third party for a period of ten (10) years. This shall not prohibit the applicant from transferring a unit or units to an entity controlled by the applicant or transferring all of the units as a group to a third party.” Transfer means sell.

Mr. Murphy makes no mention of any ten-year rental limitation surviving such a transfer, although the MVC decision immediately adds: “The units shall remain rental units for at least ten (10) years” (MVC decision, page 9).

The MVC describes its Development of Regional Impact (DRI) process as follows: “The Commission weighs the potential benefits and detriments of the proposal to determine whether the application should be approved, approved with conditions or denied.” The Commission voted on April 17, 2014, “to approve the project as presented with the amended offers and MVC conditions” (Minutes, page 11).

Flimflam? You decide.

After the MVC’s review, the Planning Board may further restrict the conditions for a proposed development, but it may not expand them. Yet that is precisely how, for one example, the large flower planter was removed between Granite and what is now the Verizon store in this very parking lot. It had been initially installed, per MVC condition, to mitigate speeding traffic from Mariners’ Way through the Braga RT’s “Four Flags” parking lot to the town “Park & Ride” lot and beyond. The Edgartown Planning Board changed that condition in 2001. (See the Lofts’ Transportation Study, page 7.)

The location was, and is, a highly-congested commercial area, which is acknowledged in the MVC’s most recent Transportation Study. The Edgartown Lofts project came back to the Planning Board from the MVC in June 2014 with an extensive list of “offers and conditions,” some of which attempted to address that congestion both during construction and for the ensuing ten (10) years.

However, the validity of the 2014 Transportation Study is highly questionable, through no fault of the transportation planner. The only available Mass DOT “crash data” (2012 stats) are provided by the local constabulary and entered by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Those figures are woefully inadequate, per my explanation at the first MVC hearing (April 3, page 12), per the DOT and per the Massachusetts General Laws:

“Mass DOT makes no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of the crash data records or the data collected from them.” The website further clarifies that local and state police and individual operators may well not routinely submit crash reports. In addition, the only reportable accidents are those which involve “serious” injury, death or damage in excess of $1000. And accidents in off-street parking lots (like the applicant’s) are specifically excluded. (See the DOT website at http://services.massdotstate.ma.us/crashportal and MGL Part I, Title XIV, Ch 90, Sec 29.)

For the several reasons listed above, I can trust neither the process nor the project. I believe it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Town to appropriately monitor and enforce those conditions for the next ten years. The “Edgartown Lofts” proposal is fraught with potential problems — including, most importantly, the safety and well-being of our residents and visitors alike.

Why is it still under consideration? You decide.

Dianne Smith

Chilmark